True, around here the word “rise” usually conjures up a certain mythical bird. But lots of things rise—like angels, hope and rockets, for instance. Just ask Soundarya “Sound” Ritzman, a UW-Green Bay senior. Starting with her name—Soundarya is from the Tamil language, spoken primarily in southern India, which means “beautiful, angel.” And when she recalls her earliest memories and the paths her life has taken, it’s not hard to imagine a few guardian angels hovering about along with the Phoenix. Ritzman (Communication and Organizational Leadership) grew up in Appleton but was born in India. And that was just the start of a journey that embraces a constantly rising spirit. She was featured recently in UW-Green Bay’s new PSA, “Never Stop Learning.” Following graduation in May 2022, she will be headed to her graduate school of choice — the University of West London, to pursue a master’s degree in Luxury Hospitality Management.
What’s Your Rise Story?
I was adopted. I don’t remember a lot about life in an orphanage. Probably because I was young, but I don’t know if my brain will ever let me remember it. I was the oldest child in the orphanage, so I was there the longest.
There’s a distinct feeling that when you’re in an orphanage “this isn’t my home – it’s just temporary.” So you have this longing to be with an actual family.
The only actual memory that I have is the day that my parents came to the orphanage. I walked down the steps and then I cried, I was just so overwhelmed by everything that was happening.
One of the favorite pictures I have is of my dad and me on the hotel floor playing little games. That was like one of my first nights with my parents. So it all ended up OK.
My whole life is a rising moment. Just getting to college and not giving up. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or what I was passionate about, but I found it now. I love what I’m doing and I have amazing people who support me.
I brought a rocket to college. It was a rocket that my dad had built with his dad. We tried to fix it and launch it. I don’t remember if it was successful. Now it just sits on my desk, it’s just a good reminder to keep going.
What keeps you up at night?
I’m a college student so I don’t sleep in general! What motivates me, and keeps me up, is the feeling that there’s just so much more that I need to do in life. I’m always thinking about the next thing I can do.
She recently discusses embracing an opportunity to get outside her comfort zone, as an on-camera talent for a new UW-Green Bay PSA. Read her behind-the-scenes perspective.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Just really enjoying what I’m doing right now. Just the fact I can get up and live my life. Becoming a Crisis Management and Communications Strategist is my ultimate goal. I have three jobs and love to hang out with people and work the jobs that I do.
Why will you never stop learning?
My parents are teachers! Growing up, I was encouraged to learn about everything I was interested in. The moment it really clicked for me was when my dad took me to a planetarium. We were looking at an astronomy exhibit, and he asked me if I wanted to build a model rocket together. We did and it became our thing. We built and launched a bunch of model rockets.
What was the last lesson life taught you?
The importance of friendship. College is really busy time and it can be stressful. Having good friends who are there for you and there to support you is so important. They’re amazing people and they want you to succeed and you want them to succeed as well. Mutual respect and admiration for each other, that’s a good life lesson.
My first two years at GB, I was not a good student. I did not do well at and almost got suspended because of my grades. I met my closest friends my sophomore year. They were so smart, knew what they were doing in life and very motivated, they made me want to become more motivated and become better. They really helped me out a lot and I’m still friends with them to this day.
How did education promote your personal growth?
Just seeing how hard my friends worked. They held me accountable and wanted to see me succeed. I saw how much more they were loving their majors. I thought, OK, something needs to change. I’m the kind of person who needs to be passionate about something in order to do it.
How do you think education will level the playing field for you and others?
I’m more of a non-traditional student. I took a year off between high school and college. So I had this fear that I was behind the rest of my classmates or that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.
I realized that education is one of those things that it doesn’t matter your age or who you are. You can still have the opportunity to learn and I don’t think people should be held back by that fear of not being on the same path, or being behind everyone else. You’re on your own path and your own journey. And you’ll get there when you want to.
What do you think is higher education’s biggest challenge?
There’s a shift in what my generation is focused on. My generation is so focused on social justice and changing the world outside of ourselves. We want to speak and to be taken seriously. We want to be heard. I think higher education’s biggest challenge will be giving us that chance.
Interview by Michael Shaw; feature photo by Sue Pischke, Office of Marketing and University Communication